Govt’s bid to control price of masks ineffective

Kathmandu, March 4

Despite all the efforts being made by the government, the price of face masks has been rising each day. The demand for face masks has increased in the market after the threat of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) hit the country.

And taking advantage of this situation traders have hiked price of masks rampantly.

Luna Nemkul from Lalitpur, who used to till recently pay five rupees for a piece of surgical mask, paid Rs 30 per piece this morning. “Till last month I was paying only Rs 250 for a box of 50 masks.”

Meanwhile, the Department of Commerce, Supplies and Consumer Protection (DoCSCP) claimed that the government has intensified market monitoring to control the price hike of face masks which are considered as top-priority protective gear against the spread of the virus.

“After receiving several complaints from consumers about the shortage and price hike of masks the department has intensified market monitoring,” Netra Prasad Subedi, director-general of DoCSCP said. He further claimed that there have been only a few cases of pharmacies selling masks at a high price at the moment.

According to a daily market monitoring report of the DoCSCP, the department has started monitoring surgical suppliers and pharmacies from February 28.

Starting from February 28 till date the department has inspected 21 surgical suppliers and 10 pharmacies.

Among those inspected, 13 firms were found selling products at the normal rate while nine firms were cautioned. Meanwhile, the department has taken action against nine firms.

Among the nine firms who paid fines to the department for deceiving consumers, Nepal Care Surgical Suppliers of Chhetrapati paid Rs 200,000 on Tuesday for selling masks at a higher price. On the same day, Sachin Trade Concern paid Rs 10,000 fine for not having receipt bills of the products it had purchased. The seven other firms also had to pay fines ranging from Rs 5,000 to Rs 20,000 for not having receipts of products.

Face masks are not only sold at pharmacies or surgical suppliers but are also traded through grocery stores. However, the department is yet to inspect grocery shops. “We have been asking consumers to lodge complaints at the department if they do come across cases of shops hiking prices arbitrarily. We will take action against them,” Subedi said.

There is no practice of keeping records of such items in the country as they are imported in very small quantities. Moreover, such surgical masks can be traded by anyone, anywhere. Hence, even the wholesalers are taking advantage of the situation, said a medicine supplier seeking anonymity.

“Importers who had imported face masks in bulk a few months back are earning good profits by selling the masks at a higher rate,” the supplier said. “Import of masks has not been affected till date and there actually is no shortage in the market at present.”

Meanwhile, the N95 masks that usually cost Rs 90 a piece are selling for Rs 300 to Rs 400 a piece in the market at present. Even when people are willing to pay the high price they have not been able to get the N95 masks in the market.